For the last four years, the Beijing, China, man mapped out a plan that eventually took him from Wyoming to Tennessee and beyond. But Wang saved the best part of his journey for last.
He left the Grand Canyon on Sept. 30 and drove straight through the night in order to reach the place of his dreams – Arches National Park.
The next morning, he pulled up toward the park’s main entryway in a bright red rental car, but he didn’t get very far. Two rangers were diverting a steady stream of traffic – including a fleet of 17 rental RVs – away from the park boundary and back on to U.S. 191.
Others who were hoping to visit Arches were aware that the park might close as a result of a federal government shutdown that took effect on Oct. 1.
New York City resident Steve Haskin counted himself among that second group of visitors.
Haskin knew that congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., failed to reach a budget deal in time to avoid the shutdown. Still, he dropped by Arches early Tuesday morning on the off chance that he might be able to find a way into the park.
When a park ranger told him all roads through the park were closed, though, Haskell took the news in stride, and said he’d look for somewhere else to go.
But the sight of the rangers, the closure notices, the orange traffic cones and the barricades came as a shock to many foreign tourists like Wang, who planned their trips in advance with specific destinations in mind.
“I’m very disappointed,” Wang said. “I flew maybe 10,000 miles to come here, but it’s closed…”
After he spoke with a ranger, Wang pulled his car to the side of the road and walked a few hundred feet away from the barricade, where he snapped pictures of the Arches welcome sign.
With three days left before he was due back in Las Vegas, Wang hoped to salvage his trip with visits to Zion and Joshua Tree national parks.
But when he learned about the far-reaching effects of the shutdown, he said he had no idea what he would do once he hit the road again.
“[The shutdown] ruined my vacation,” he said. “Now, there’s no way [I’ll get to Zion and Joshua Tree].”
Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Marian DeLay and Moab Coffee Roasters barista Charlie Jacobs heard similar stories in the hours after the shutdown.
“Definitely, people are upset with this whole situation,” DeLay said Oct. 2.
Jacobs said many of his foreign customers were puzzled. above all else.
“You could tell by their facial expressions that they just didn’t grasp that idea [of a government shutdown],” he said Oct. 1.
Some visitors who tried to enter Arches on Oct. 1 expressed their dismay at the political impasse in Washington, D.C., that led to the closures.
“I think it’s bull----,” said one Georgia man who did not identify himself.
South Florida resident Terry Nairn, who is in the middle of a three-month trip that has taken him to many of the West’s iconic national parks, shared those frustrations.
“[Expletive] idiots,” he said. “You can quote me on that, too.”
One woman, however, vented at park rangers, instead.
“You are not doing a good thing,” she shouted as she stood outside Arches’ main entryway.
DeLay said she understands why tourists might be disappointed by the closures. But she urges people in the tourism industry to remind visitors that park rangers are in no way responsible for the shutdown.
“It’s not their fault, and we hope that people will understand that,” DeLay said.
In fact, park employees are among those who have been hardest hit by the shutdown.
According to Kate Cannon, superintendent of the Park Service’s Southeast Utah Group, which includes Arches and Canyonlands national parks, just six or so employees will remain on duty at Arches. About 20 full- and part-time employees will stay on the ground at the much larger Canyonlands National Park, she said.
Normally, Arches and Canyonlands, along with Hovenweep and Natural Bridges, employ a combined total of 180 workers around this time of year; 30 full-time volunteers also work at the four sites.
As long as the shutdown continues, the skeletal staff at both parks will be focused on protecting resources, maintaining utilities and patrolling the sites. Other employees will remain on call in the event of a major incident, Cannon said.
Since visitors have stopped pouring into the parks, the closures are expected to take a toll on fee-funded projects, as well. Between the two national parks and the monuments, Cannon estimates the Southeast Utah Group of parks is losing about $18,000 in revenue every day.
The federal shutdown will also affect activities such as camping and boating on some Bureau of Land Management lands, BLM officials said in a news release Oct. 2. The full impact to recreation on BLM property was not completely clear on Wednesday, but agency spokeswoman Megan Crandall noted that the closures would affect nearly 60 developed recreation sites and areas across the state, “including campgrounds in the Moab area, Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River, Desolation Canyon on the Green River and the San Juan River.”
“The BLM Utah will furlough 744 of its approximately 750 employees during the funding lapse,” Crandall said in the news release. “After the initial shutdown procedures are completed, the BLM Utah will maintain a total of 58 excepted employees with an additional 93 employees on call.”
Some area hotels are also being hit by shutdown-related cancellations. But DeLay said the tourist industry has convinced other guests to stay by encouraging them to visit sites that are not affected by the closures.
(A full list of travel alternatives, including Dead Horse Point State Park, can be found at: www.discovermoab.com.)
Meanwhile, Tag-A-Long Expeditions is urging its clients to consider three options. They can change their itineraries, cancel their reservations or keep in touch and see what happens in the days to come, according to Tag-A-Long President Bob Jones.
The second alternative isn’t the preferable one, from Jones’ perspective. He noted that even if the shutdown continues, clients can book canoe trips from the town of Green River to Mineral Bottom, instead of taking a different route to the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers.
Jones said he can’t see any upside to the government shutdown, but he is trying to view the situation in a positive light.
Things are still busy, he said, and at least the shutdown didn’t arrive at the height of Moab’s tourist season.
“If it had happened in June or July, it would have sealed the season from then on out,” he said.
DeLay shares Jones’ optimism.
She noted that the October calendar is packed with fun-filled events, including Outerbike, Plein Air Moab, the Moab Jeep Jamboree and Moab Rocks.
“We hopefully won’t feel the impacts as much as other communities might,” DeLay said.
Federal closures at a glance
The National Park Service is just one of many federal agencies that are feeling the effects of the government shutdown that took effect on Oct. 1. Some agencies have implemented drastic cutbacks, while others will continue to operate at varying degrees, thanks to a variety of other funding sources.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
Virtually all Bureau of Land Management (BLM) services will be suspended, with the exception of law enforcement and emergency response functions.
In Utah, BLM closures will affect nearly 60 developed recreation sites and areas, including campgrounds in the Moab area, Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River, Desolation Canyon on the Green River, and the San Juan River. Alternative camping arrangements at Utah State parks can be found at: www.stateparks.utah.gov.
U.S. Forest Service The U.S. Forest Service is operating with minimal staff to ensure certain essential services. All facilities, including Forest Service offices and developed recreational areas such as campgrounds and picnic areas are closed. General areas of the National Forest remain accessible for driving, hiking, hunting and fishing.
Veterans Affairs The Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center and its satellite clinic in Moab will remain open during the ongoing government shutdown with no reduction in services. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers are funded through Sept. 30, 2014 under a two-year appropriations system.
Moab UMTRA Project
The Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project will continue to operate during the federal government shutdown using carryover funding from fiscal year 2013. It will operate until those funds are exhausted.